|In “Mayor” filmmaker David Osit, gives us a real-life political saga following Musa Hadid, the liberal Christian mayor of Ramallah, during his second term in office. Ramallah is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and soldiers (I did my basic training there when I was in the Israel Defense Forces) and most people in Ramallah will never have the chance to travel more than a few miles outside their home. This is why Mayor Hadid is determined to make the city a beautiful and dignified place to live. His immediate goals include repaving the sidewalks, planning the town’s neon-bright Christmas celebrations, boosting tourism and avoiding gunfire from Israeli army activity. His ultimate mission is to end the occupation of Palestine. The film is “a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country?”
Being a mayor is not easy and when one is the mayor of one of the most contested pieces of geography in modern history, the job is that much more difficult. Yet, Musa Hadid, who has presided over the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah since 2012 and has calmly and pragmatically gone about his business, concerned as much about park benches, sewage treatment and other routine municipal details as he is about the very future of his people.
The film was shot during the 2017 holiday season, when Ramallah, which has a minority Christian population was preparing for the festivities just as the Trump administration controversially announced it would be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What we see is a study in politics both micro and macro, showing what happens when the two collide.
“Every year, same chaos, same story,” the fifty-something Hadid admits at one particularly tough moment, when soldiers from the IDF have swarmed his city, going door-to-door to root out protesters and surveillance cameras in a sweeping demonstration of their occupational might. And yet, Until the point in the documentary when Israeli soldiers go door to door to root out protestors Ramallah resembles the any other mid-sized capital, with civic issues, Christmas tree lighting plans, cafés, fast-food restaurants and other things we don’t usually think about life in the Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Ramallah wants to be like other cities but cannot. It is surrounded by Israeli settlements and is dependent on Israeli approval for anything it undertakes. It is very close to Jerusalem, it has become one of the major places of the Middle Eastern crisis. There is major urban unrest whenever the conflict flares up.
The mayor somehow manages to maintain quite a level of composure and has had a great deal of energy. He really wants to make Ramallah a nice place to live. He seems to worry about the smallest things such as the quality of doors at a local elementary school celebrating the Christmas the tree-lighting ceremony.
This portrait of Hadid can be seen as a bit one-sided but we see him as he tries to stay in power. We might say that this more of a look at his position as mayor that it is of him as a person. Although Hadid needs to constantly wheel and deal to get the job done, in terms of the conflict he says that is about dignity.
He is steady so it seems reliable leadership is underrated. We see him at a staff meeting about the new marketing slogan that is part of a re-branding attempt for the city where the idea is beyond him. He’s much more comfortable discussing the Christmas celebration and more run-of-the-mill problems, like replacing old doors at a public school.
Larger forces are at work that will have profound effects on Palestine and, subsequently, Hadid. Following President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, tensions with the Israeli soldiers around Ramallah increased. When asked by international rights organizations about hosting talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, he loses his cool and lists the abuses Ramallah has suffered under the occupation. Some of the film’s most satisfying moments happen when he pushes back against the West, asking European visitors as to whether anyone in their home countries knows what has been happening here.
Ultimately, the film isn’t too biographical as we never learn anything about Hadid’s political career before he became mayor, and both he remains a distant figure. We do see his leadership style and today when there are so many leaders that are driven by their egos, this is refreshing.
· Commentary by Director David Osit
· Deleted Scenes
About Film Movement
Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.